Category Archives: Trip preparation

Endorsements #1: The Good

Believe it or not, there are multiple families traveling across the US in minivans, spurred on by information published in this blog and its predecessor, the Getaway Van.    Real people in real vans following our mostly made-up blog.

Oh, alright, we don’t really make most of this up; the Spreadsheet is real, and surely a great resource for families wanting to head west with their families as far as five weeks will allow.

None of these families has actually returned yet.  But we figure they’re fine.  Things can’t have changed that much since 2011.

And as imitation implies flattery, so does flattery inspire bloggers to keep on blathering on about whatever it is they feel like.

So, for anyone else considering a trip with youngish kids, maybe some of the following endorsements from our Central American odyssey will come in handy for you.


Highly recommended

The contents of my backpack, still organized on day 74 of the trip.

The contents of my backpack, still organized on day 74 of the trip.

Modular packing:  Jen picked up these cool soft-sided cases for packing purposes.  The backpacks lent to us by the Brooks family were excellent and very spacious.  There was a lot of potential for huge messes every time we opened them up.  Inside each backpack were individual cases that held clothes, toiletries, school supplies, games, etc.  This greatly facilitated unpacking, packing, and general organization, and cut down on the time it took us to set up or strike camp.  The cases that Jen ordered worked well, but so did the re-purposed packaging from sheets, blankets, and pillow cases  (generally clear vinyl cases with zippers).   We won’t travel again without them.


What can tackle a muddy volcano and clean up well enough for a night out in Moyogalpa? Keens.

Keens sandals:  For the vast majority of the the eleven weeks abroad I wore my trusty pair of Keens.  This includes the day we left frozen New Hampshire (with socks that day) and throughout all 16 kilometers of Volcan Maderas (a week later I was still washing mud out of them).  By contrast, the flip-flops I brought lasted only five days in Jiquilillo before the left one started falling apart.   Everyone had a pair of Keens and all five pairs made it home intact.  They didn’t even start to smell (at least not enough to stand out from the rest of our smelly stuff) until after we got home.  To remedy the situation, by the way, we had to stick Lanie’s pair in a bag full of baking powder and stick the whole thing in the freezer for a night.  They’ve been fine ever since.


Actual picture from our snorkeling trip in Cahuita, taken on our Panasonic Lumix underwater camera.

Actual picture from our snorkeling trip in Cahuita, taken on our Panasonic Lumix underwater camera

Panasonic Lumix DMC TS25 underwater camera:  We would not have pictures of our waterfall cave and cave tubing tours, not to mention the girls’ scuba trip and our first snorkeling trip without this camera.  When taken on land, the pictures were not as good as the ones from our trusty Canon A70 point- and-shoot, but when taken in places filled with water, the pictures from the Panasonic were bordering miraculous.  Its ability to withstand  wet conditions allowed this camera to preserve some of the most exciting experiences of our trip and present them in our blog to our incredulous fan base. In general, the underwater pictures came out better than we expected.  Even if they were not as good as those taken by Carlos, our guide, remember that I don’t have his experience on the reef, and I was getting seasick by the end of the trip anyway.


We were so happy when the pavement started that we took a picture.

We were so happy when the pavement started again that we took a picture.

Toytota Yaris four-door sedan:  Renting a car was not the best experience of our journey.  I get very stressed out driving in unfamiliar places.  We were deeply conscious of how much more it costs to rent a car than to travel by public transportation.  So we didn’t fork out the extra money for an SUV.  It turns out that the roads of Costa Rica — even the ones connecting highly popular tourist attractions — are a lot worse than we expected.  But this lightweight Toyota sedan is sturdier than it appears.   These were bumpy, unpaved, uneven, winding roads.  Hilly, too.  Even filled with our family and our luggage, we made it from Fotuna to Monteverde and then to La Fortuna and then to Alejuela.  I wouldn’t say it was a pleasure to drive, but it was a necessity, and the Yaris did its job.  Plus, it had an aux-in jack that allowed us to listen to a good portion of “My Friend Flicka” on the ipod, when the road noise would allow.

The travel guitar is affixed and ready to depart Granada with the rest of us.

The travel guitar is affixed and ready to depart Granada with the rest of us.

Guitar Works SO-GWG-TC1 travel guitar:  Ok, I did try to check this with the rest of our luggage when we flew from Costa Rica to Belize.  By this point I was tired of carrying my travel guitar around worrying about it getting crunched.  Of course, Jen realized that it would definitely have gotten crunched if I checked it with our backpacks for an airline flight.  She talked me down and I carried it onto the plane where it went nicely into the overhead bin.  Even on the manifold bus trips that we took, the guitar suffered little more than going slightly out of tune.  Mostly, it was un-noticeable when we traveled, strapped to the outside of my backpack, not increasing the overall weight of my load significantly.  It does not make a lot of noise when I play it (a blessing for anyone else who happens to be in the vicinity), but it makes up for this with its life-saving track record:  If I hadn’t returned to our hut in Jiquilillo to strum a few chords, I would not have noticed the (potentially) venomous snake crawl under the wall and slither up into Jen’s mosquito netting.  Where would I be then? I ask.   Somewhere with a traumatized wife, that’s where. Carrying around my guitar and Lanie’s violin proved useful endeavors, as I do not feel like I got too rusty being away and Ms. Louise seemed pleased that Lanie was able to keep her Suzuki Book 1 songs “in her fingers” for when we came back.  Plus, Lanie earned a few bucks busking at our resort in Belize, and generally received acclaim wherever she played.

David Archy Quick-Drying Men’s Underwear:  That’s right, I got special underwear for this trip.  I exclusively wore David Archy Quick Drying boxer briefs, black if you must know, from one end of Central America to the other.  That’s right, four pairs.  Quick drying underwear meant I could wash one pair — often in the shower — and expect it to be dry and wearable the next day, even the next morning if I washed them at the end of the day.  I could’ve made it through with two pairs. Four pairs was an extravagance.   When paired with my quick-drying Quicksilver surfing shorts, they made fine bathing suits; thus, I was relieved from the burden of carrying around a dedicated bathing suit.

Grandma gets a pre-trip lesson on Skyping.

Grandma gets a pre-trip lesson on Skyping.

Skype/Facetime:  Most of the world already knew about Skype when we left for the trip, but we had barely — if ever — used it.   This mode of communication made our laptop (and our ipod Touch for our friends on the Facetime platform) extremely useful communications tools.  While we tried to get the girls to describe their surroundings in the blog, it was much more fun and easy for them to take their Webcam out to the balcony and show Grandma Arenal volcano across the street from our apartment.  This served as a launching pad for them to talk in better detail than we might have heard from them otherwise.  At one point in the trip Grandma admitted that she felt less worried about us on this trip than she had felt when we drove across the US. (???!!!???)  I think being able to see as well as talk to us contributed to this feeling. We did not use Skype in the Getaway Van days.  I’m not sure we called her more than a few times from the road.  It was all on the blog back then.   Skype/Facetime also made up for the fact that our “international” cell phone was c-r-a-p.  Crap.  We were able to be in communication whenever we had wifi, which wasn’t always, but it was just about good enough.

Jen rocks the travel skirt on the streets of St. Ignacio.

Jen rocks the travel skirt on the streets of St. Ignacio.

Travel skirt: (Jen here.  Despite its many virtues, Bob has not adopted a travel skirt.)  For hot-weather travel, nothing beats a skirt like this.  It’s at least as comfortable as shorts, and it can go so many places that shorts can’t — nice dinners, cathedrals, etc.  Given the extremely limited amount of clothing we had room for, a multi-tasker like this was critical.  This one is made of lightweight, wrinkle-free, quick-dry fabric and has several convenient pockets.


Did the monkey want to snatch my lunch, or my hat?

Did the monkey want to snatch my lunch, or my hat?

Airflow sun hat:  This hat, proudly made in Canada, was left behind by the previous owner of our camp.  Likely it belonged to the wife of the previous owner of our camp.  Yes, I probably walked around Central America wearing a woman’s hat.  Kept the sun off, though, and held up well to washing.  The chin strap came in handy on top of Mombacho where the wind was threatening to carry my hat out over Lake Nicaragua.

Fine-tipped markers:  Jen found these on Amazon and got them for the girls to use for their school work.  Incredibly, none of them appear to have stayed in Central America.  The whole set stayed together, thanks largely to the roll-up packaging.  Also, I don’t think any of them dried out.  Impressive, given all the coloring that went into just the Costa Rica rainforest coloring book Zoe and Lanie chipped in for in Monteverde.

IMG_7032(Small) games: We are a game-playing family, and a rainy day or quiet evening is much improved by having some family-friendly entertainment on hand.  One of the packing modules Bob mentioned above was a small plastic pouch containing the essential pieces of several of our favorite games, along with a little pad of paper for score-keeping.  Naturally among these was the classic deck of cards, usable for a nearly infinite supply of games.  Ones we played regularly included Hearts, Spades, Go Fish, Crazy Eights, War, Spit, and the kids’ favorite, I Doubt It! (which also goes by a less child-friendly name that several of you are no doubt familiar with.)  Lanie also developed an obsession with building card-houses, and spent many happy hours in this pursuit.  Other games were selected based on a combination of how much we liked them and size/weight (which mostly meant card games).  These included: Iota, Sushi Go!, Horse Show, Dominion (my personal addiction; for the true geeks out there, we brought a subset of cards from the original and Intrigue sets), and Left Center Right.

Nicaraguan Zipper Wallet:  I wanted a non-leather wallet because I suspected I was going to get very wet at some point and leather wallets don’t hold up very well to those kinds of conditions.  For my birthday I got a cool, colorful wallet with three zippered pockets.  I still don’t know how well it holds up to water, but it definitely keeps a low profile in my pocket.  True, I don’t hold nearly as many frequent buyer cards as I used to, but I am a much more nimble and efficient traveler these days, even when I’m just running down to the market for some milk.  This wallet was probably made in Indonesia, but, as it was purchased at the market in Masaya, it is a Nicaraguan wallet to me.

Without the date function on the Iron Man, would we have known it was time to go home?

Without the date function on the Iron Man, would we have known it was time to go home?

Timex Iron Man watch:  As far as I know this is not an expensive watch, but it served me brilliantly during our trip and continues to do so.  I’ve often had issues with watch bands cracking or tearing, but this one held up well.  No problem with water, either.  It held up to two snorkeling trips, several river caves, and a couple of swimming holes. The calendar display was appreciated — it’s easy to lose track of days on excursions like this — as was the two time-zone settings, which made it easier to adjust to switch back to EST during our home voyage.  Also, several of the Brooks boys have the same watch, making it trendy with the young folk.  Not bad for a watch that was turned to steel in a great magnetic field.

Renting to nice people:  It is always a gamble turning your house over to other people, and we did just that, for eleven weeks, to people we barely knew.  And we were extremely fortunate.  Not only did Deb and Denny keep the pipes from freezing and the local cat burglars from preying on our possessions and copper pipes, not only did they inhabit our home in the middle of the winter without the comfort of cable tv or an adequate snow blower, they shoveled our roof at one point and cleaned our oven — heroic feats, both.  Here’s hoping they’ve moved into the new house they were building this spring, and that it has a very clean oven.




Farewell, old friend

Today is a sad day in our family.  We are losing one of our own.  One who has been with us for over 20 years, through thick and thin, always there when needed.

I refer, of course, to the Saturn.


I have written before about some of the, uh, quirks of this ancient car.  Last January George at the Village Garage told us it was unlikely to pass inspection again due to the fact that the frame is basically disintegrating into rust.  (Engine still running great, though!)  With our upcoming 11-week absence, it seemed like a good time to say goodbye.

IMG_6312I bought this car when I was 22 years old, having just gotten my first real job out of college.  The Saturn and I moved to NH together.  Never did I imagine that 20 years later, when everything else in my life is different, it would still be hanging on.

We pretty much stopped driving it on 1/31, when the registration and inspection expired.  It is not easy to be a one-car family!  Bob and I had to plan our itinerary with the precision of a military campaign to get everyone where they needed to be.  Even so, we had to rely heavily on the generosity of our wonderful friends, who gave us rides and shuttled our kids and loaned us their cars.

I paid extra for this tape deck back in 1994.

I paid extra for this tape deck back in 1994.

(One of the car loans was when I had to run an errand from work one day.  My friend Charles loaned me his BRAND NEW AUDI, just off the dealer’s lot.  Many people would have found this fun and exciting, but all it did was stress me out.  I couldn’t even start the car successfully.  As is the new normal around here, the roads were snowy.  The car has all these button and sensors and kept beeping frantically at me all the time.  I was much happier driving Chris and Trisha’s vintage Subaru.)

But what to do with the Saturn?  My friend Sue suggested putting it on an ice floe in Lake Winnepesaukee and setting it aflame.  Though a Viking funeral would have been fitting, I preferred not to get arrested so we went with donating it to NHPR.

A few days after we stopped driving it, Bob tried to move it to clear the driveway.  And it wouldn’t start.  We know that this means: the Saturn knows.  Like those old couples who die a few days apart, the Saturn apparently doesn’t want to go on without us.

Making a list and checking it 87 times

Sprayed clothing drying in the basement.  I call it the "Irish tenement" look.

Sprayed clothing drying in the basement. I call it the “Irish tenement” look.

Bob and I are pretty busy getting ready for this trip.  We’ve been gathering information for homeschooling, dealing with bills and accounts and other logistics, and trying to declutter our house so the nice people who are living here while we’re gone will actually have someplace to put their things.  Figuring out what to pack is an ongoing chore, and I think I’ve gotten carpal tunnel from spraying down our clothes with the heavy-duty insecticide that was recommended by the travel nurse and I bought on amazon.

Zoe has had a slightly different focus.  She knows that Lanie, being the youngest and smallest, usually ends up being the limiting factor in what adventures we’re able to take on.  So she’s had Lanie in her own intensive boot camp training, trying to strengthen our chain by bolstering the weakest link.  Luckily Lanie is also a fan of adventures and so has put up with this fairly cheerfully.  (Sadly, I think Zoe is doomed to discover that all the boot camps in the world won’t convince us to take the family on the adventure she’s been salivating over: The Black Hole Drop.

One can only imagine what Day 6 will bring.

One can only imagine what Day 6 will bring.

This week she’s upping the ante.  She has created an “advent calendar” for Lanie, which requires her to do various physical feats in order to receive a small prize.  Before 7am the other day (when Lanie is usually not even awake yet), I found her in something resembling the plank position, so she could get her prize before Zoe left for school.

Don’t let the door hit you on the way out


Bob walks into town for supplies, much like Pa Ingalls did out on the prairie.

Bob walks into town for supplies, much like Pa Ingalls did out on the prairie.

That’s the message that we feel we’re getting loud and clear from Mother Nature these past couple of weeks.  The weather is certainly doing its best to lessen any regret we might have about leaving.

We actually like winter and snow.  But jeez, enough is enough.  Of the past eight school days, three have been snow days and two others have had 2-hour delays.  We should have left for this trip earlier, since the kids pretty much aren’t going to school anymore anyway.  Given the amount of snow currently in our yard, I predict that we’ll still be able to enjoy it when we return at the end of April.  (Based on past observations, our yard retains spring snow longer than any other place in the continental US.)

Poor chickens are not fans of this weather either

Semi-buried chicken coop.  Chickens are not fans of this weather either.

Thawing toes after a day of skiing

Thawing toes after a day on the slopes

Worse than the snow, though, are the sub-zero temperatures.  We’ve managed to get in four ski days this year, and it has been absolutely frigid Every. Single. Time.  Last Saturday we daydreamed of beaches and palm trees as we shivered on the lift, outerwear arranged so that no bit of skin was exposed to the icy wind.  It’s hard to believe that a week from today we’ll most likely be complaining about the heat.  (That’s if we don’t turn into popsicles en route to the airport, wearing our light fleece jackets and Keen sandals.)

It's been so cold that the kids are wearing their ski goggles to play outside in the yard.

It’s been so cold that the kids are wearing their ski goggles to play outside in the yard.

Packing and unpacking

This is not directly related to our big trip, but it was cool and it was quite adventurous.  Also, there are some good pictures to post up here, so I’m going to go with it.

A lot of people have been asking: Are you packed yet?  And it’s a good question because at any given time in the past month some or all of us have been packing for something: a ski trip, a sleepover, a New Year’s sleepover that dovetailed into a ski trip.  We’re good at packing.

As it currently stands — and this is subject to change — my big trip this year has been to New Jersey.  I over-packed, because, even though it was only for a weekend, I was going with my pal Justin, and he’s a very stylish fellow.  Now I know that when Justin goes to the Jersey shore he goes for blue jeans — at least that’s what he wears in January — but going into this trip I had to be prepared for anything.

At this time of year, we were not going swim or sunbathe.  That leaves only a few other reasons to head to those parts: gambling, outlet stores and Springsteen.  For this trip, we took on the latter two.

J-man and I pose for a "selfie"-style photo on the way out of the Stone Pony

J-man and I pose for a “selfie”-style photo on the way out of the Stone Pony

Really, it was Bruce who brought us down.  The blue jeans should have tipped you off.  Outlet stores were just a time-killer.  Though I did find some nice shorts in a store that I had believed was for skater kids.  They’re water resistant, though they don’t look like a bathing suit.  Just what I need for Central America. $45 for one pair; $50 for two. Credit the J-man for discovering them.

Other than that, we were in a Bruce Bubble: listening to E-Street Radio, walking where the Boss walked.  We went to the famous Stone Pony club on a Friday night and saw some bands.  We walked the streets of Asbury Park (which was actually a lot nicer than I expected — a nice mix of Portsmouth and Hampton Beach, if you know the Seacoast).


Madam Marie still telling fortunes on the boardwalk after her apparent parole.

And then the big event.  Saturday night was the Light of Day concert at the grand, old Paramount Theater, part of a huge edifice that straddles the boardwalk and points to a time when several hundred people would flock out of the sun to a movie matinee.  On this night, it was all about raising money for Parkinson’s research.


Southside Johnny on left in foreground, Bruce on right, La Bamba’s Big Band (from Conan O’Brien!) in the background.

Aw, hell.  It was all about the Boss.  He’s never on the official line-up for the concert, but he’s performed at 13 of the 15 Light of Day shows they’ve had, or something like that. There’s a buzz around town about: “Will he show up this year?”  And people walk around on the beach during the day to see if the can hear the sound check.  Then they post what they’ve heard to the Internet.  Then at some point they change the order of bands in such a way that people know he’s going to be there. All day at the outlet mall Justin kept checking his phone for info.  We were pretty confident when we walked in.

With good reason.  What we saw was basically a Bruce Springsteen concert with about 14 opening acts.  The theater was packed.  Bruce apparently walked down the aisle a couple of times during the early hours  of the event, but Justin and I didn’t notice.  The music was good.  We saw a variety of acts that were new to me, plus several names I recognized, such as Southside Johnny, Willie Nile, John Eddy, Vinny Lopez and — a special favorite for me — Pat DiNizio, lead singer for the Smithereens.

It was a truly entertaining and enjoyable night, and I owe Justin a huge thanks for pulling it together and for inviting me.


Bruce takes the mike to sing “This Little Girl is Mine.” Gary U.S. Bonds was sick that night.

Bruce hit the stage at around 11:30, and from then on it was his show.   He would occasionally hand a song off to his backing band, Joe Grushecki and the Houserockers, but there were lots of Springsteen songs on parade. He got to “Thunder Road” and I looked at my phone, possibly to call someone who might want to listen.  It was 1:45.  Too late to call anyone on the East Coast, at least.  That wasn’t even his last song.

The next day, Justin and I left our hotel at 11, only to find that all the bridges into Staten Island were closed.  The bridges were iced up and there were more than 400 accidents in Jersey alone.

Given where we were, we made the best of it and went to a mall.  They’re easy to find in this part of the world.  By the time we shopped and ate lunch (alas, it was Sunday so the Chick-fila was closed, but we found a good place across the parking lot), the bridges were open again and we were able to head back to the island.  From there I was only three states from home.

The Saturn got in the last major trip of its storied career (ending mileage 237,898) and I got to listen to both NFL conference championship games.  It was a good end to a fine adventure.

Then I unpacked.

Packing light(ish)

Turns out that there’s a lot to think about when you’re packing for an international 11-week trip.  Especially if you’re the sort of person who likes to be prepared for every contingency.  And you need to be able to carry it all on your back for a few miles if necessary.

IMG_6214You can see here that we’re certainly prepared for medical contingencies.  (Especially diarrhea — we’ve got lots of stuff for diarrhea.)  I even packed a few pages from an approximately 2-inch-thick printout that the travel nurse gave us listing every possible illness and misfortune that could befall us (including things like corrupt policemen and getting ripped off by taxis, which you would think would be a bit outside the wheelhouse of the travel nurse).

Even though we’re heavily prepared for diarrhea, we’ll still do our best to avoid it.  To that end, we have a few products to treat our drinking water:


(The ad for the LifeStraw shows people bent over with their straws in the churning muddy rivers in the jungle, happily drinking through the straw.  Although Zoe really wants to try that, I think we’ll stick to less dramatic water sources.)

Breaking in our new shoes

Breaking in our new shoes

I think we’re doing OK on clothing as well.  We included some necessities on our Christmas and birthday lists, so we’re armed with such things as quick-drying pants that convert to shorts, and travel underwear.  And our shoe of choice, Keen hiking sandals.  Since we’ll be carrying our belongings on our backs, bringing a lot of shoes would not be practical.  And after doing some research on the kinds of conditions we’ll be encountering, I’m thinking (hoping) that the Keens will pretty much cover all our bases.  We’ll have some wool socks with us in case we encounter colder weather, and we’ll have some lightweight sandals/flip flops for the beach and casual wear.  If we need something else, we’ll have to buy it down there.  (That’s right, no sneakers, so my illustrious running career may be on hiatus for a few months.)

My clothing for 2.5 months

My clothing for 2.5 months

In case anyone is curious, we each are planning to bring:

  • 1-2 pair pants (Bob and I have ones that convert to shorts)
  • 1-2 pair shorts or capri pants
  • 1 skirt (well, not Bob)
  • 4-5 short-sleeve shirts
  • 1-2 long-sleeve shirts
  • 1 bathing suit
  • 1-2 pair wool socks
  • 1 lightweight fleece
  • 1 raincoat
  • 1 pair Keen closed-toe sandals
  • 1 pair flip flops (or in my case, lightweight sandals since I HATE that thing between your toes)

IMG_6162(If you happen to see five people driving through 3 feet of snow to Logan Airport in a couple of weeks, wearing sandals over socks and shivering in inadequate jackets, that will be us!)  All items have been chosen to be as lightweight and quick-dry as possible.  Access to washing machines is uncertain, and access to dryers extremely unlikely.

Of course, there are some other extras as well.  We have plenty of art supplies, for example.  (The girls got some great travel ones for Christmas.)  We have journals.  We have compact travel towels (the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have, of course) loaned to us by our wonderful friends, the traveling Brookses.  We have various electronics and books and toiletries and anything else that popped into our heads and was stuck into the “Central America box” that has resided in the corner of our bedroom for the past several months.  And we’re packing an extra suitcase full of school and art supplies to donate to the local school that is supported by La Mariposa.

The blue one is Nadia's, of course.

The blue one is Nadia’s, of course.




These guys will also be accompanying us on the plane. Happily, Lanie was motivated to donate several stuffed animals — win/win!


Itinerary, part I


La Mariposa

Two and a half weeks left!  We fly out on 2/11, from Boston to Atlanta and then on to Managua, Nicaragua.  It will be a long day, but the nice thing about traveling south is that we don’t have a big time-zone shift.  Nicaragua is on Central time, only one hour behind us here in New England.

Trip planning is proceeding, although in a much looser fashion than is the norm for us.  We have so little idea of what to expect that we want to leave ourselves with as much flexibility as possible.  However, as previously mentioned, I’m not one to just show up at the airport with a backpack and a guidebook (especially since we’ll be arriving at 9pm).  So, as a compromise, we have our first three weeks planned out and will be planning the rest as we go along.


Our excursion schedule.  Nadia is looking forward to the “salida en caballo” on Sunday mornings.  I’m excited about the finca de pina on the day after our arrival.


Stuffed animals Lanie selected to donate

The first two weeks were easy.  In fact, our destination is what drove our decision to start in Nicaragua to begin with.  We’ll be staying at La Mariposa Spanish School, which looks almost too good to be true.  The first time I read about it, I decided then and there that this would be the start of our trip.  We’ll be doing one-on-one Spanish lesson in the morning, and excursions to volcanoes and farms and villages and beaches in the afternoons.  In the evenings there are movies or salsa lessons or lectures.  The school is an eco-lodge in the mountains, surrounded by gardens where they grow their own food and coffee.  (And just to make sure Nadia is as happy as the rest of us, they also have 16 horses.)  And we’ll be getting all this, including all meals, for $221 per day for the five of us.

We hope to have an opportunity to help out in the local schools and will be bringing what we can for donations.  They especially want children’s books in Spanish, so if anyone has any lying around, let me know.

After we leave La Mariposa, we’re headed northwest to the coast and the colonial city of Léon.  The plan is to stay there two nights.  Léon will be nice to explore in and of itself, and it’s also ringed with volcanoes that we hope to tour.

Rancho Esperanza

Rancho Esperanza

For our last planned stop, we continue nortwest to the Rancho Esperanza, in the seaside village of Jiquilillo.  Again, this place sounds totally amazing.  It’s a hostel, so we rented out all the beds in a six-person dorm.  (Otherwise I’d pity the poor unsuspecting sixth person stuck in with us.)  We’ll be right on the beach, taking surf lessons, kayaking in the mangroves, and relaxing in the beachfront hammocks.

After this, we don’t have set plans, although the idea is to head inland to the mountain town of Esteli and the nearby nature preserve/farming cooperative community of La Miraflor.  We’ll keep you posted.

It’s time! To think about some stuff as it pertains to our upcoming trip


Well, I mean, we are and we aren’t.  If we could, we’d get right on the plane this instant, but we don’t really have anything packed, and there’s still a few more weeks of work and school to get through.

Nevertheless, excitement is high.  It almost feels like this is a reality.


A bag fit for an apothecary.

We’re checking off necessary actions on our readiness list:  Passports? Check.  Special quick drying underwear? Check.  (Thanks, Santa.)  Hiking sandals, swim shirt, water purifier, medication for “travelers’ diarrhea.”  Got ‘em.  Plus a bunch of other medication it’ll be good to have on hand, and a few motion sickness bracelets.

We’ve begun to load up on audio books.  We’ve borrowed a five-pack of good traveling backpacks (thanks, Brookses) plus towels, because packing a towel is how you show other travelers how cool you are.  We’ve thought through footwear and reading materials.  We’re getting a handle on electronics and homeschooling stuff.

The appointment to get the Saturn out of the driveway is set for the day before our house sitters can arrive.   Goodbye, old friend.

Jen and I are both up to level 12 on Duolingo.


Two shots apiece for the parents and one each for the kids. One more thing out of the way.

We all got our shots the other day (no typhoid coming home with us) and then Jen set to the truly painful task of setting up the new travel laptop (it’s got Windows 8).

Coming up:  spraying clothes with mosquito repellent; actually packing our backpacks;  secuing a ride to C&J, emptying out our closet  and dressers to make room for the new occupants; finding the PIN for my international-fee-free debit card.  I’m sure there’s more.  Empty out the freezer.  Change the linens.  Prep the house sitters on generator operation.


Jen consults Big John while trying to set up Little John. Under her breath she’s muttering, “Bastards.”

                But, really, we’re ready to go.   I expect we’ll be more ready to go by this time tomorrow, when there will be at least six more inches of snow.

Planning and unplanning

With all the business of the holidays behind us, and less than  five weeks to go (!), I’ve jumped back in to trying to figure out what this 11 weeks is going to look like.

It’s turned out to be somewhat of a challenge.  Amazingly, there’s so much to see and do in this region (and, of course, the necessity of so much more time and trouble getting around) that 11 weeks doesn’t even seem like enough to see everything we want to see.

I’m trying to be very conscious of striking the right balance between touring around and seeing the sights, and having time to just be somewhere, relaxing and hopefully getting to know the culture.  We also need to build in time for school activities for the kids.  And above all, during this 11 weeks I want to avoid rushing.  In our normal life at home, we’re always having to tell the kids to hurry, hurry, hurry.  I think we could all use a break from that.

The cross-country plan. Color-coded by time zone, of course!

The cross-country plan. Color-coded by time zone, of course!

The other challenge is security vs. flexibility.  I have a well-deserved reputation as a planner.  In general, especially when traveling with the kids, I like to know where I’m going to end up at the end of the day and how I’m getting there.  Driving around at 10pm searching for a hotel with vacancies surrounded by squabbling exhausted children is not my idea of a good time.  Nor is spending the first hour of the day flipping through guidebooks or struggling with an inadequate internet connection in order to figure out where to go, how to get there, what it will cost, etc. only to find that the great museum we really wanted to go to is closed on Mondays or that there was a really great tour at the national park that took place yesterday.

Our friends the Brookses, who have extensively traveled the world with their FIVE kids, are the complete opposite of me in this regard.  They are known for, among other things, arriving at the Copenhagen airport (yes, all seven of them)  in the middle of the night with all their bikes disassembled in boxes, only then to realize that they hadn’t considered how they would get from the airport to their hotel.  However, everything always works out and they have wonderful adventures, so there’s that.

Most trips that we take involve at least one spreadsheet.  For our five-week cross country road trip a couple of years ago, I had everything planned to the letter.  There were good reasons for this (i.e. in order to stay at several of the places that turned out to be highlights of the trip, campsites/accommodations had to be booked months in advance) and in the end it worked out wonderfully.

The Disney plan.  Maybe spontaneity is not my strong suit.

The Disney plan. Maybe spontaneity is not my strong suit?

I even had a spreadsheet for our trip to Disney a few years ago.  I found a website that was like crack cocaine to an OCD planner such as myself,  It had reviews, crowd calendars, ratings on which park to visit each day, as well as extremely detailed suggested itineraries that would minimize standing in line (and which they obtained by exhaustive testing in the parks).  Poring through this information and then synthesizing it into a schedule for us is the kind of thing I find fun. (I know!  I’m a weirdo.)

In my defense, I am not rigid about these plans.  I always told my family that we could choose to deviate from the Disney Plan at any time.  I just like to have  a plan, so that we’re not all standing around saying,

“What should we do next?”

“What do you want to do?”

“I don’t know, what do you want to do?”

…and then have all three kids inevitably pick different choices and proceed to fight bitterly over them.

But this time, due to the length and nature of the trip, I do want to allow us more flexibility to go where the wind takes us.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ll have researched and documented a tentative general itinerary (of course).  But I’m hoping to avoid locking us into it whenever possible.  Time will tell whether this turns out to result in spontaneous bliss or endless headaches.  (My guess is, a little bit of each.)